Across large swathes of north India, schools closed down on Thursday as pollution hit hazardous levels for the third day, with growing calls for urgent government action to tackle what doctors are calling a public health emergency.
Punjab's government said it was closing all 25,000 schools in the state for the rest of the week due to the acrid air blanketing north India and parts of Pakistan. The decision came a day after Delhi authorities said they were closing all 6,000 schools in the capital until Sunday. Figures on the US embassy website showed levels of PM 2.5 – the smallest particulates that cause the most damage to health – spiked over 1,000 on Wednesday afternoon in Delhi, through by Thursday they had fallen to 590.
The World Health Organization's guidelines say 25 is the maximum anyone can safely be exposed to over a 24-hour period.
The government urged anyone with breathing difficulties to remain indoors and said everyone should avoid strenuous activity.
The media reports said the thick smog had also led to a series of road accidents in India. Eight students were killed late Wednesday when a truck ploughed into them as they waited for a bus on a roadside in Punjab.
“Delhi once again has become a veritable gas chamber with denizens finding it difficult to breathe,” India’s most-read English-language newspaper said in an editorial blaming “political apathy”.
“Air pollution during winter months has become a catastrophe for large parts of north India. It’s high time the question is asked: why can’t authorities enjoying jurisdiction over the national capital of an aspiring great power… come up with concrete measures to tackle the world’s worst air pollution,” it said.
Delhi's air quality typically worsens before the onset of winter as cooler air traps pollutants near the ground and prevent it from dispersing into the atmosphere, a phenomenon known as inversion.
The Delhi government is to meet later Thursday to decide what further measurements need to be taken.
Check out the video below of the vehicle pileup that occured on the Yamuna expressway.